Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding the spread of coronavirus Covid-19 is similar to security coordination. The only real difference is that Israel can play the humanitarian card, even as it persists with its daily routine of violations against the Palestinian people.
Earlier in March, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin set the scene of purported equivalence in a call with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he stated, “The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live.” The virus may make no distinction, but politicians do. The colonised Palestinian population, in particular Palestinian refugees and Palestinians in Gaza, are at a higher risk of exposure and deprivation than Israeli settlers on stolen Palestinian land. Rivlin also took the opportunity to score a political point, declaring, “Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also a testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.”
The UN, according to Israeli media, has praised Israel “for the good cooperation and coordination in dealing with the coronavirus.” In its Emergency Situation Report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA) described Palestine and Israel as having “maintained a close, unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic.” As usual, the UN has failed to illustrate the colonial context which is the main source of deprivation for Palestinians.
Even as it cooperates on aspects of limiting contagion, Israel continued with its demolitions of Palestinian property, including the confiscation of material which was to be used for an emergency clinic in Khirbet Ibziq. “Shutting down a first-aid community initiative during a health crisis is an especially cruel example of the regular abuse inflicted on these communities,” noted human rights organisation B’Tselem. “It goes against basic human and humanitarian principles during an emergency.”
The UN, meanwhile, is seeking to score points for future negotiations based upon a hypothetical two-state compromise. It isolates official coordination from the rest of Israel’s actions, which also include demolitions of Palestinians’ private property. To accommodate the narrative which has now engulfed the world as it deals with a global pandemic, the UN has availed itself of the opportunity to refrain from even commenting on Israel’s violations, creating new parameters for the normalisation of the settler-colonial state’s crimes.
When the pandemic is over, the UN will have a reference for cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian officials based on a humanitarian crisis, but it will not acknowledge how Israel exploited the crisis for its security narrative and the prospects of forcing Palestinians into additional acquiescence. The coronavirus spread has merely affirmed how the political burden for compromise is forced upon the Palestinians. As the UN refuses to deal with the facts — that the Palestinians are facing the pandemic under occupation in a colonial context — the measure of false equivalence emerges in terms of the “both sides” rhetoric. Yet, once the focus shifts to politics again, it will be the Palestinian people who continue to bear the loss, as devised by Israel and the silent, complicit international community.